Focus Academy, an 18-year-old charter school in southern Dallas, is about to close because the state says it has failed to improve bad ratings three years running. The school wants a reprieve after taking in kids from Prime Prep Academy — the school that former Dallas Cowboy Deion Sanders founded. The state shut it down two years ago.
Chants of “save our school,” from several hundred Focus Academy students, resound across the converted strip mall parking lot at Ledbetter and Hampton. This is the raucous, Friday after-school rally at the charter’s campus.
The demonstration was organized by Leroy and Yvette McClure, the husband-and-wife team that runs the school. They want the second of three consecutive strikes to be lifted. Leroy, Focus’ founder, says his charter took in 75 Prime Prep kids when that school closed in 2015. As a result, he says bad grades from those students led to Focus’s failure that year.
“And so we’re asking to waive that particular year,” McClure explains. “And we believe that if the legislators would really look into what happened that particular year, there’s a possibility they have the authority to waive strike two.”
Texas Education Agency spokesperson DeEtta Culbertson says the school has already offered to close voluntarily.
“And then the commissioner approved that. He’s accepted their request to close,” Culbertson says.
That fact aside, 18-year-old senior Chauncey Brown understands the argument that puts blame on the Prime Prep transfers. After all, he was one of those kids.
“That could be true. It was a tough transition at first but now it’s kind of been mended. So, you know, you had kids coming in from another school. You know, kids here already, [are] kind of comfortable. We had to adjust to get to know each other. So, I think now we’ve grown into one family,” Brown says.
Taking kids in, taking kids out
Other families with kids still enrolled in Focus will face headaches if it closes. Lakeysha Kelly brought her two children here from a Dallas ISD campus because she said that school held one of her kids back. She doesn’t want to return to the Dallas district.
“It’s scary. It’s very scary not to know where your kids are going to go. It’s very scary. It’s like what are we going to do? It’s like where would these kids go? Where would they go? I have no idea. I’ve been over here about two years, and I like this school. It’s close. It’s convenient. I don't know,” Kelly says.
Neither do Desmon Krout or Kirsty Showers. Their kids are in pre-K and third grade at Focus. Krout says his children benefited after they moved here from Faith Family Academy, another charter.
“You know, taking children out of one school and putting them in another — it really stops the process of their growth and learning,” Krout says. “At some point there has to be some type of stability.”
Krout is still studying his options, choosing to wait and, as he says, keep hope alive. That alone may not do it, says David Dunn. He runs the Texas Charter Schools Association and supports the state’s three-strikes law now taking aim at Focus. Since that law took effect four years ago, Dunn says 30 charter schools across Texas have closed.
“We’re not in the business of protecting schools that are not meeting the needs of kids. The education of our youngsters growing up is just too critical a state responsibility,” Dunn says.
Focus is now set to close at the end of the school year. Parents can then choose another charter or district school.